Elias, a former senior apprentice of the Kane Kwei Workshop, leads me through long alley ways and corridors deep within the slums of Teshie. I clutch the camera hanging around my neck very firmly. I am definitely on “the other side of the tracks”. We begin to approach large hordes of people lining the streets. Guards armed with automatic guns are keeping the crowds off the street. Elias leads me down the middle of the street as if the crowds and guards weren’t there.
ABOVE: Throngs of people line the streets in anticipation of the celebration
When I expressed interest in going to the Festival earlier in the day, Eric Adjetey Anang immediately called Elias to see if he could take me. Eric said that Elias would be the best person to accompany me to the event. I had no idea what I was getting into. Maybe I should have taken a hint when Eric admitted the he had never ventured to go see Gbemliliaa, the opening event of the Homowo festival.
ABOVE: Right after the chief preists’ advisor placed nynyla around my neck.
It is now 2:55. I am barefoot in a small courtyard and completely overwhelmed. I have no clue what is going and wonder if I will ever see my shoes again, which are sitting on the ground among the swarm of people surrounding the hallway leading to the courtyard. Elias assures me that his brother will take care of my shoes. I am introduced to the chief priest’s advisor who places nynyla around my neck. Elias is from the clan of the chief priest! I then meet Elias’ father and three older women who aid the chief priest. I among about fifteen to twenty people in the small courtyard. Everyone greets me with enthusiasm, and for a moment I feel some security. Two men come out of a doorway, the chief priest and 2nd chief priest. The chief priest sits down in front of a large mural of himself for several minutes and then begins to get up.
ABOVE: In the background the second chief priest (far right) walks with the chief priest, the chief priests’ advisor, and another priest. In the foreground 6 men rake hoe along the ground as symbolizing the weeding of the maize. The six men each represent one of the seven clans of Teshie, the Chief priest represents the seventh clan.
Elias grabs my arm and tells me it is time to go. We swiftly exit the courtyard leaving behind my shoes and my peace of mind. The chief priest is starting the ritual of walking through the ceremonial grounds to each of the seven shrines (representing the seven Clans of Teshie). Elias’ brother joins us as we head to the first shrine. Elias and his brother walk quickly pushing themselves and me through and against anyone in our way. They explain that they want to get me in the best places for taking photos. The chief priest arrives at the first shrine and begins saying incantations to the supreme god, then to the sea to provide more fish, then to the land for more food, and then he asks for abundance of life and for peace to prevail within Teshie and throughout Ghana. The priest then preforms the right of jemanwojii which is the pouring of Schnapps on the ground to summon the gods and spirits of the land.
ABOVE: The chief priest performs incantations and sprinkles Schnapps on the ground. The women in the foreground are the new servants to the gods and are paying homage to the chief priest.
The chief priest and his Entourage consisting of the second chief priest the priest advisor and another priest make their way to the other six shrines performing the same ceremonial rites. They then go back to the first shrine and start again until each shrine is visited a total of three times. A celebratory march begins afterwards which works its way back and forth throughout the streets. Children from the chief priest’s family lead the march. Everyone is dancing and singing.
ABOVE: The dress of the two girls signifies they are part of the chief preists’ clan. Any girl that is part of this clan could become the queen of teshie. Unlike other cultures, the king and queen in Teshie are not linked by marriage.
Video of the Gbemlilaa procession
All the while Elias is moving me through the crowd as I video and photo the entire event. There are other photographers and videographers as well, however it is hard for me to blend into the thousands of people since I am the only white person in sight. I wonder what the crowds think of a “obruni” taking part in gbemlilaa. As the festivities start to come to a close, we head back to Elias’ family house. Elias introduces me to some of the other members of his family back at the house. He also invites me to some of the other celebrations in the coming weeks. We shall see.
I did get my shoes back.